- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Latin American alarm

Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo yesterday warned that democracy in Latin America is threatened by poverty and ignorance — even in his country, one of the fastest-growing nations in the hemisphere.

“It is time for leaders of Latin America to sit down. We need to listen to the people in the streets of Buenos Aires, Caracas, Sao Paulo and Quito,” he said in a speech at George Washington University, citing major cities in the region.

“People won’t wait another 20 years. … We need to be much more creative. Otherwise, democracy is at risk in the region.”

Mr. Toledo’s experience is an example of the difficulty that elected officials face. Even as he has turned around the economy of the Andean nation, his popularity has plummeted to about 8 percent, our correspondent Marion Baillot reports.

Since his election in July 2001, Mr. Toledo has reduced inflation to 2.2 percent and cut the budget deficit to 1.4 percent of gross domestic product. Peru is running a trade surplus and is growing by about 4 percent a year.

Nevertheless, 53 percent of Peruvians live in poverty and are growing impatient with democracy.

“The economic results are there,” he said. “But it is one thing to grow the economy and another thing is to share the benefits of growth.”

A recent United Nations survey of 19,000 citizens in Latin America showed that only 43 percent support democracy, while 30.5 percent are ambivalent and 26.5 prefer a stable authoritarian government.

“People become impatient,” Mr. Toledo said, pledging to promote better health services and education.

“There is no better investment than in individuals,” he said. “Education is the most effective instrument to get people out of poverty with dignity.”

Mr. Toledo, who received the university’s President Medal, said he still holds hope.

“I confess that I am a dreamer,” he said. “I confess I am a fanatic for education.”

Optimistic envoy

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq yesterday said voter registration will begin Oct. 15, despite daily bombing attacks by “desperate criminals” who obscure the “quiet progress” being made throughout the country.

Ambassador John D. Negroponte told the Associated Press that registration forms will be distributed to every Iraqi who is at least 18.

He said the government has been planning for January legislative elections according to the political timetable established by the U.N. Security Council and Iraq’s interim government.

“There’s four more months to go until election take place,” he said. “Planning proceeds to realize the National Assembly elections by the end of January 2005.”

Mr. Negroponte, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he is not dismissing the dangerous atmosphere in Iraq and the problems of creating a multiethnic democracy among Kurds and rival Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

“It’s hard work,” he said. “I don’t underestimate the challenges, but don’t let the headline of the day — the suicide bomb attacks, which are the acts of desperate criminals — deflect you from the quiet progress, the quiet advancements that are taking place.”

Vietnam’s protest

The Vietnamese foreign minister yesterday summoned the acting U.S. ambassador to complain that Washington included the communist country on a black list of nations that could face U.S. sanctions because of religious abuse.

Nguyen Dy Nien delivered his protest to John Boardman, the charge d’affaires, according to a report in the Vietnam News daily. A new U.S. ambassador, Michael Marine, is scheduled to take up his duties soon.

The State Department last week accused Vietnamese authorities of imprisoning people of various faiths and shutting unofficial churches.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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